SOPA soap opera

There is a fascinating article in The Hollywood Reporter describing the behind-the-scenes drama at the MPAA during the SOPA smackdown of the past few weeks.

In the desperate hours of early January, with chatter spreading that the White House was poised to make a devastating statement opposing parts of proposed anti-piracy legislation that Hollywood studios considered key to the industry’s very survival, MPAA president Christopher Dodd made a phone call to DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Katzenberg’s company is not an MPAA member, but a list of the top 10 fund-raisers bundling money for President Obama would include not only Katzenberg but also his political adviser, Andy Spahn. It would not include any of the chiefs whose studios belong to the MPAA. So the former U.S. senator reached out, he says, to find out about the thinking inside the White House.

“The rumors were running rampant,” says Dodd. “I was trying to use all the information points I could to find out what was going on.”

Dodd says that at the time of his call, he had been assured no major actions were imminent. Then, on Jan. 14, the administration said it would not support legislation “that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

“They just made up their mind to do it,” says Dodd. “I raised issues about it, but they were going to march ahead.”

And the article notes the damage to Dodd’s reputation and effectiveness as a lobbyist caused by this remark:

In the days after the controversial House version of the bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, was derailed, Dodd belittled those who opposed it and threatened Democrats who had fled when the bill became radioactive. Perhaps his worst post-defeat move came Jan. 19 when he told Fox News that “those who count on, quote, ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake.” There was an instant outcry, including a petition on the White House website calling on the administration to investigate Dodd for “bribery.” (In less than a week, it had attracted more than 21,000 signatures.)

As I previously noted, that remark by Dodd does seem to come close to an offer of a direct quid pro quo of money for legislative action.

SOPA quote of the day

The former senator and now CEO of the MPAA can’t catch a break: “You’ve got an opponent who has the capacity to reach millions of people with a click of a mouse and there’s no fact-checker.” Must be terribly hard to represent the largest media empires in the world, who collectively own all the major newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, billboards, record labels and studios. How will they ever get their side of the story out?

Cory Doctorow, writing at Boing Boing.

Anti-SOPA fallout

Political support for SOPA was seriously reduced yesterday by the concerted efforts of citizens, and not by huge political contributions and lobbying. It is a true voter uprising.

Phone calls and e-mail messages poured in to Congressional offices against the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect I.P. Act in the Senate. One by one, prominent backers of the bills dropped off.

First, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising Republican star, took to Facebook, one of the vehicles for promoting opposition, to renounce a bill he had co-sponsored. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who leads the G.O.P.’s Senate campaign efforts, used Facebook to urge his colleagues to slow the bill down. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina and a Tea Party favorite, announced his opposition on Twitter, which was already boiling over with anti-#SOPA and #PIPA fever.

Then trickle turned to flood — adding Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Representatives Lee Terry of Nebraska and Ben Quayle of Arizona. At least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House members announced their opposition.

Of course, Hollywood has tremendous financial resources so a one-day protest does not guarantee any particular result. We must keep the pressure on going forward.

SOPA tweets of the day (updated)

So Obama has thrown in his lot withSilicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.-
@rupertmurdoch
Rupert Murdoch
Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying.
@rupertmurdoch
Rupert Murdoch

In terms of lobbying money contributed to the SOPA/PIPA battle, the copyright owners have spent far more on lobbying than the tech industry.  News Corporation believes in strong copyright protection at all costs, but doesn’t feel that personal voice-mails are private.

In addition, the copyright owners are actively suppressing any discussion of these bills on their own media properties. For example, NBC News has had virtually no coverage of the bills but actively supports their enactment.

Update: Google’s official response to Murdoch’s claims:

This is just nonsense. Last year we took down 5 million infringing Web pages from our search results and invested more than $60 million in the fight against bad ads…We fight pirates and counterfeiters every day.

White House opposes SOPA, PIPA

Logo of the United States White House, especia...

Yesterday, on the official White House blog, the Administration came out strongly against both the DNS changes and censorship provisions of both SOPA and PIPA. With regard to the DNS changes, the White House has concluded that the risks of damage to the Internet charged by opponents of the bills was real:

Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk.

With regard to censorship risks, the post provides:

Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected. To minimize this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity. Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing.

Effectively, both bills seem dead for now.

But don’t expect the entertainment industry to go away quietly.  For example, the MPAA responded aggressively to the White House position and seem to have read an entirely different Administration release.

We welcome the Administration’s clear statement that legislation is needed to stop foreign based thieves from stealing the hard work and creativity of millions of American workers. For too long in this debate, those that seek to preserve and profit from the status quo have moved to obstruct reasonable legislation. While many of the elements mentioned in the White House statement are critically important, we believe, as do others in our coalition, that protecting American jobs is important too, particularly in these difficult economic times for our nation. We are pleased that Chairman Leahy and Chairman Smith reiterated yesterday that they too support action. So now it is time to stop the obstruction and move forward on legislation.

***

While we agree with the White House that protection against online piracy is vital, that protection must be meaningful to protect the people who have been and will continue to be victimized if legislation is not enacted. Meaningful legislation must include measured and reasonable remedies that include ad brokers, payment processors and search engines. They must be part of a solution that stops theft and protects American consumers.

Political quote of the day (updated)

Why can’t they just hire a lobbyist like everyone else?

– an unnamed aid to the House Judiciary Committee, complaining that hackers published personal information about a Committee staffer (among others including media chiefs) in a bid to derail the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

This is one of the most telling political statements in quite some time. People without the financial to wherewithal to hire lobbyists and make large campaign contributions are invisible to Congress.  The only way to get action from Congress is with cash.

Meanwhile Lamar Smith (and Patrick Leahy in the Senate with respect to PIPA) say they plan to drop one of the worst provisions of SOPA from the bills which currently require that the DNS system be placed at great risk to block alleged pirate sites based exclusively on governmental claims but without trial. But that could be added back at any time.

… the lawmakers appear to have conceded to opposition from security experts who say the plan would sabotage U.S. government-approved efforts to secure DNS against hackers and break the internet’s unified naming system by introducing lies into infrastructure.

“After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision. We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers,” Smith said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear whether Smith would also remove the requirement that, if an ISP decided not to redirect, it must employ other censoring methods as outlined in the bill such as IP address filtering to prevent American citizens from visiting sites the attorney general maintains are dedicated to infringing activities.

Update: It appears that there will be a significant delay in attempts to enact SOPA and PROTECT-IP.  However, it is important to keep up pressure on your Congressional representatives to avoid back-sliding.  And there is more from Ars Technica.

Good news on SOPA

Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has announced that the Committee will hold a hearing on January 18 to “examine the potential impact of Domain Name Service (DNS) and search engine blocking on American cyber-security, jobs and the Internet community” in light of SOPA proposals. He lists a roster of witnesses with actual technology skills. This contrasts with the virtual absence of such expertise in the formal SOPA hearings to date.

SOPA is a danger to us all

From Politico:

The conservative and liberal blogospheres are unifying behind opposition to Congress’s Stop Online Piracy Act, with right-leaning bloggers arguing their very existence could be wiped out if the anti-piracy bill passes.

“If either the U.S. Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA) & the U.S. House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) become law, political blogs such as Red Mass Group [conservative] & Blue Mass Group [liberal] will cease to exist,” wrote a blogger at Red Mass Group.

SOPA/ProtectIP risk operation of the Internet (updated)

A group of 83 technology inventors and engineers, who collectively built the technology for the Internet, have warned that SOPA/ProtectIP are threats to the Internet’s continued operation. The number one signatory is Vint Cert, the co-inventor of TCP/IP, the underlying networking technology that is at the base of the Internet.

If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure. Regardless of recent amendments to SOPA, both bills will risk fragmenting the Internet’s global domain name system (DNS) and have other capricious technical consequences. In exchange for this, such legislation would engender censorship that will simultaneously be circumvented by deliberate infringers while hampering innocent parties’ right and ability to communicate and express themselves online.

Update: And there is this highly appropriate take by Alexandra Petri in today’s Washington Post:

As long as there have been new technologies, the entertainment industry has been trying to get them shut down as filthy, thieving pirates. Video cassettes? Will anyone tune into TV again? MP3 players? Why even bother making a record? Digital video recorder that lets you skip ads? That’s a form of theft!

But SOPA is threatening to touch something far more precious than that — the glorious sprawl of the Internet.

SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, is a bill that, in the name of preventing online piracy of copyrighted work, creates a horrifyingly large censorship authority for the Internet. Among other things, it requires service providers (which have come out opposing the bill) to block access to entire sites if a user on the site is accused of copyright infringement.

There are dozens of reasons this is wrong. The biggest and most pressing is that not only does the bill not do what it sets out to do, it also creates a horrifyingly blunt instrument to censor the Internet.

How to get to Wikileaks

Governments around the world are trying to block access to Wikileaks. One  approach they are using is to push Internet search engines to refuse to link to Wikileaks.

However, you can always access Wikileaks by using their IP address, rather than a URL that you locate via a search engine like Google, which will not return a hit directly to Wikileaks.  Here is the IP address:  213.251.145.96.

More from Wired’s Threat Level blog.

But one of the lessons demonstrated by the recent attacks on WikiLeaks is that a popular website can survive even without DNS, thanks to Google. The top search result for WikiLeaks on Thursday is a link to the site’s Internet IP address, 213.251.145.96. WikiLeaks is strong enough now that it can survive as a number.

If all of the above confuses you, check out this handy explanation of DNS and IP addressing: